Developing skills like curiosity, kindness, and emotional intelligence at a young age will help kids succeed as adults. But there’s one skill parents aren’t teaching their kids enough today: self-regulation.
When children learn to self-regulate, they better understand the importance of time and how to manage their own behaviors and actions.
This is something I prioritized teaching my daughters when they were young, and it contributed to their success. Susan is CEO of YouTube, Janet is a doctor, and Anne is co-founder and CEO of 23andMe.
All three have risen to the top of competitive male-dominated professions.
Children need to learn self-regulation now more than ever
Twenty years ago, children met friends in person, played outside, did puzzles and read books.
Things have changed a lot since then. We are constantly on electronic devices. And kids are tech-savvy. I have seen third graders demanding cell phones from their parents to take pictures or go on social media.
But it’s not so much children’s access that worries me. It is the lack of self-control and self-efficacy regarding access. How much time should children have on a digital device? How often should they use it? What should they do about it?
Self-regulation isn’t just about screen time. This ultimately helps them become more capable and confident in all aspects of their lives.
How Parents Can Help Children Self-Regulate
Self-regulation begins to develop rapidly in toddlers and preschoolers, so the sooner we start teaching it, the better.
1. Model a healthy relationship with technology.
Think about the last time you ate lunch typing an email while listening to a podcast and checking your phone every time it rang. We have all been there.
Children may have difficulty self-regulating because their parents model this behavior. Don’t forget that our children are constantly watching and copying us!
Worse still, a A survey of over 6,000 participants found that 54% of kids thought their parents used their devices too frequently. Thirty-two percent of children felt “unimportant” when their parents were on the phone.
Not important. It makes me sad. How many of us adults have felt that when someone checked their phone during a conversation? Yes, phones are addictive, but for the sake of our children and ours, we need to set limits.
2. Teach them to be patient.
Self-regulation is made up of many skills, and one of them is patience. A study on delayed gratification found that children who are able to wait longer for rewards tend to have better outcomes in life.
Here’s the opposite of teaching patience: let a child be online all day – in the car, at the restaurant, at the dinner table.
For my daughters, waiting and saving were part of our lives. We didn’t have a lot of money when they were growing up, so we saved up for what we wanted. They each had their own piggy bank, and they filled them penny by penny. We even cut coupons in the newspaper every Sunday.
When they were able to buy something they wanted through their patience, they felt a sense of accomplishment.
3. Let them get bored.
As a teacher, my students sometimes complained to me that I couldn’t hold their attention during class. But I never got angry or offended.
I took it as a learning opportunity and said, “I want you to go home and ask your parents if they ever get bored at their work. If you come back tomorrow with the answer may they never get bored, you can skip my lecture.”
It caught their attention. “Being bored is a preparation for life,” I told them. “You are training right now.” They laughed, but they all understood. Life is sometimes, or often, boring.
But you can learn a lot during these times. You can either go straight to your phone or dream: what are your goals? What are your next steps? What are the obstacles in the way? Where do you feel the most excitement, the most hope?
4. Define technical rules.
It’s a given, but surprisingly, many parents don’t set the ground rules.
Here are some of my top rules for technology:
- Establish a plan with your children, not for your children.
- No phones during meals, either at your house or at someone else’s.
- No phone after bedtime. Explain the importance of sleep for brain development and remind them that their bodies grow when they sleep.
- Use discretion with young children. Young children, from the age of four, should be taught how to use cell phones in an emergency.
- Children should develop their own cell phone policies for family vacations or any type of social activity where they need to be present. Be sure to choose a penalty for disobeying their own policy (eg wasting time on a device).
- Discuss which images and audio are appropriate for sharing online. Explain that everything they post leaves a digital footprint.
- Help them understand what cyberbullying is and its negative impact on others. I always say, “Laugh with your friends, not at their.”
- Teach them not to give out personally identifying information.
The goal is to empower them and teach them self-efficacy. When children can self-regulate, they are more likely to have more fruitful relationships with themselves and with others.
Esther Wojcicki is an educator, journalist and bestselling author of “How to Raise Successful People.” She is also co-founder of Tract.app and the parent’s main office at Shey. Follow her on Twitter @EstherWojcicki.
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